There are many challenges at present to be faced working in health care in Ireland, in particular the barriers that both staff and service users face with current cutbacks and limited resource provisions. In the face of these challenges it is important to be creative and innovative in order to provide services that best meet the needs of those service users that we work with and, in turn, maximise their potential. With this in mind, the Book Club in St Vincent’s Centre was founded just over a year ago and was a result of several disciplines coming together in shared expertise.
The idea first came from our librarian, Grace Hillis, and community nurse, Jane O’Connell, after they discovered a book entitled The next chapter book club (Fish and abidoux 2009) which detailed an inclusive and dynamic model for creating a book club to suit people with intellectual disabilities. The attraction of The Next Chapter Book Club was that there was a particular emphasis on community participation and involvement, an idea we felt echoed the sentiments of the HSE report New directions (HSE 2012), which called for a ‘blurring of boundaries between “special” and “mainstream” services’. By creating a community-based book club for our service users we would be able to take ‘mainstream’ idea and combine it with the goals of our service users. Essentially, the creation of a book club would be multifaceted; not only would we be addressing personal objectives such as literacy, but there would be opportunities to focus on communication, interaction and social involvement. Essentially, the book club gave both service users and staff the opportunity to engage in an exciting and interesting venture that we hoped would positively impact the quality of service being provided, as well as the quality of life of the service users.
Through a group effort from members of the multidisciplinary team, staff and service users, our Star Book Club was formed! Finding a suitable venue was somewhat time-consuming as our chosen venue needed to be on board with our idea, wheelchair friendly and quiet enough for us to hear each other reading aloud. We found all of these traits in Starbucks in Blanchardstown, where the staff’s enthusiasm and kindness made our book club even more enjoyable. (We would like to say a huge thank you to them.)
Although we arrived prepared each week, we came across obstacles such as the attendance of book club members and the time commitment required from both staff and service users. Other difficulties included preparation of materials for the meetings because of limited access to the internet, printing and laminating services.
The books we chose were all from the Open Door Series (New Island Books) a collection written by well known authors for adults with literacy difficulties. These books work well, as there are plenty of topics to choose from, and they are generally eight to ten chapters long, allowing us to complete a book per term. These books were easily adapted for our service users who had lower literacy levels than others; this included using pictures and objects as supports, as well as identifying and defining key words and storylines. The books chosen also provided scope for activities during our book club, such as identifying the bridges of Dublin from Bullet and the Ark (Sheridan 2008), and a bus tour around Dublin city following Old money, new money (Sheridan 2000).
On reflecting after the first book club, feedback was overwhelmingly positive, viewing it a worthwhile venture for service users and staff alike. This resulted in the formation of a second book club for service users living in a different community area, as well as the continuation of the first book club. From our experiences of the first book club, we were then able to provide training to other staff members so that they could also run book clubs independently. Although the organisation and running required a lot of time and effort from service users and staff, we felt the gains in social interactions and literacy definitely justified the work involved. We would highly recommend others to follow suit! (and we would welcome any comments or queries.)